ON THIS DAY:  31 May 1859

The Great Bell, known as ‘Big Ben’ in the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster, started ticking for the first time. The clock, designed by Edmund Beckett Denison and constructed by John Dent, chimed for the first time on July 11, 1859.

A clock tower is thought to have been on the present site dating back to the 1290s. The Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire in 1834, and construction of a new clock tower commenced in 1843. Big Ben was fraught with problems. The first bell was cast at Warners of Norton near Stockton-on-Tees in 1856, but a crack was discovered, and it was recast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in East London. After the second bell was installed and struck for the first time, Big Ben was fractured again.

Fortunately, thanks to the suggestion of Sir George Airy, the Astronomer Royal, who proposed turning Big Ben 90 degrees and reducing the hammer size, hourly striking could resume.

In 1976, a mechanical failure caused serious damage to the Great Clock, and it remained silent for 9 months while being repaired. In 2017, conservation of the Clock Tower (renamed the Elizabeth Tower in 2012) began. In 2022, Big Ben struck again.